The Arts

Greensboro Permaculture Guild Grows Next Generation of Farmers

(Last Updated On: April 12, 2017)

VISIONS-MAIN-Permaculture 2

There’s a good chance you’ve seen the work of the Greensboro Permaculture Guild, but you may not have known it. The group of sustainable design enthusiasts cultivates small landscapes and gardens tucked around the city. The guild is responsible for the yard behind Elsewhere on South Elm Street, and the public orchard on the Greenway. Their projects make downtown a little more green without drawing too many resources, or too much attention. Each one blends in with the natural elements around it. For permaculture, that’s kind of the point.

Permaculture is a school of design that provides what people need from a space – food, shade, et cetera – while staying true to the surrounding nature. This process starts with the dirt itself: rather than break up the soil structure through tilling, permaculture gardeners encourage earthworms, whose tunnels aerate the soil. Free resources, like rainwater and solar energy, are used wherever possible. The result is cost-effective low-maintenance landscaping. For guild members, it’s also fun.

Permaculture was named in 1978 by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, and their concepts have been slowly gaining traction ever since. The Greensboro Permaculture Guild was founded by Dr. Charlie Headington, a local expert on sustainability and simple living. Dr. Headington teaches at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, directs the gardening program at Greensboro Montessori School, and hosts permaculture workshops from his backyard.

These days, the guild mostly runs itself through Tuesday lunch meetings at Deep Roots Market. Member David Mudd organized the first guild lunch back in 2013, and it’s become a weekly tradition. Members talk through personal gardening projects, organize group work days to benefit the community, or share knowledge gained from visits to other permaculture sites or intentional communities. Not surprisingly, those two have plenty in common.

“A lot of permaculture work sprung out of intentional communities,” explained member Charlotte Lehecka. “Bill Mollison’s concepts were easily embraceable in an intentional community. They’ve really pushed it forward.”

For those who want to learn about permaculture in a more structured way, the guild’s Permaculture Design Course meets one weekend per month every March through August. Students learn fundamentals of permaculture design that can be applied anywhere from patio gardens to full scale farms. Successful completion of the class leads to a certification in permaculture design. Some local graduates have gone on to contract work with commercial and private clients. Other members never take the course, but enjoy lending hands to the guild’s many collaborative projects.

The guild has designed, built, and maintained multiple sites around town, such as the Giving Back Garden of the First Presbyterian Church, Gaia’s Garden at the Timberlake Earth Sanctuary, and the Interactive Resource Center. Habitat for Humanity has recently drawn on the guild’s expertise for several houses on Quail Oak Drive.

“We have an informal partnership with Habitat for Humanity. We design the landscape for each new house the Greensboro chapter brings online, and we provide a couple or three people to do the installation,” said David Mudd.

Volunteer opportunities abound within the guild, but the group can also lead to lucrative careers. In addition to design course graduates getting contract work, several guild members sell their produce at farmers’ markets around the Triad. Still others make the transition to full time farming. In the age of the factory farm, the guild has attracted interest and new members from among local college students, whose open minds are necessary to foster the grassroots level shift to sustainable agriculture taking place across North Carolina, and the nation at large.

“I think that area south of Charlotte is really ripe for the next wave of agriculture,” said Ross Lackey, a guild member and career farmer, who manages North Corner Haven Farm. “All the people farming out there are 60 or 70, and they aren’t making any money. It’s all hobby to them. Landowners are trying to figure out what to do.”

More and more of those large scale landowners are turning to agrotourism or other organic farming solutions, and permaculture experts are poised to get in on the ground floor. Lackey recently designed a permaculture farm for a prominent family in Chester, South Carolina, who are looking for people to bring his plans to life.

“They are actively looking for a farming couple,” said Lackey. “There’s a career waiting for somebody. They’re willing to pay equity, salary, residence… It’s an incredible opportunity.”

The challenge now is to make more people aware of these opportunities. To that end, the guild welcomes anyone interested to join a meeting or take a course to learn how permaculture benefits not only the environment, but the lives of those who practice it.

To learn more about the Greensboro Permaculture Guild, visit their website at To sign up for a permaculture design certification course, visit

Mia Osborn is a Greensboro-based freelance writer who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.